A good horror game should be paced like a good rollercoaster. It should constantly shock you, give you clear moments of recovery before shockingly dropping you back into a scared state. This is something Tango Gamework’s The Evil Within 2 does brilliantly.
The Evil Within 2 is a game that constantly had me on my toes and left me alive by the skin of my teeth after every encounter. But it just doesn’t batter the senses with constant scares and heart attacks, it’s also a game that offers up more than enough tools and mechanics that make it not just a great horror experience but a great game overall. However, The Evil Within 2 still suffers from writing issues inherited by its predecessor though and some minor issues that come with its new semi-open world design, but despite this, it still manages to feel like one of the strongest additions to the horror genre in years.
The Evil Within 2 starts us off three years after the horrific events of the original that occurred at the Beacon Mental Hospital. Our protagonist, former detective Sebastian Castellanos, is still haunted by the events of the first game, and his search for the shadowy Mobius Corporation has only led him to the bottom of a glass. But before he sips away his last reminaing bit of sanity, Sebastian is dragged back into another Mobius-made mess within their evil machine known as STEM, lured in by the promise of retrieving his thought to be deceased daughter, Lily. It’s all a pretty cliché story from here on out in terms of storytelling, and besides some very minor twists and turns, the plot of The Evil Within 2 doesn’t contain any knock-your-socks-off moments.
The game’s dialogue doesn’t fare too well, either. Much like those at the center of the first title, the cast of characters in The Evil Within 2 are nearly lifeless. They may as well be made of cardboard, as the words that come out of their mouths feel stiff and uninteresting. This is especially the case for Sebastian, who displays so little character and has such an underdeveloped personality that his interactions with all the other characters feel forced and awkward — which is surprising for someone with such flair in their name.
The Evil Within 2′s world, however, might be the game’s most engaging character. Just like the original, the universe is crafted by a collected hivemind of its inhabitants, meaning rules of physics and science don’t apply here. From the moment you first approach the imaginary middle-of-nowhere U.S. town, greeted by a looming “Welcome to Union” sign, you can tell that it’s anything but normal. At the drop of a hat, Sebastian can find himself transported to varying locations, including art galleries full of works made of human flesh and hallways freckled with doors that seemingly lead to nowhere. It’s a whacky aesthetic dream, and the added layer of distrust that the unpredictable environment provides is one that increases the game’s creepy atmosphere.
Throughout the bulk of the game, you’ll be running around the streets of Union, scavenging for supplies and completing side tasks as they are discovered via Sebastian’s nifty tracker, which picks up audio of the denizens of Union. Exploration here is both incredibly rewarding and imperative to your chances of surviving the horrors that hide in every dark corner of the town.
As in the original, Sebastian doesn’t just have firepower at his side to improve his odds within STEM; he also has options to improve himself via the games skill point system. This system incentivizes exploring parts of Union not just for ammunition and herbal medicines to bolster Sebastian’s health and protect him against what forces may be lurking in the dark, but also for experience on its own. Venturing through the town allows for a chance to soak in the spooky sights and sounds, which would be less appealing if it weren’t for the bonus points those meandering walks award you.
It’s here where you’ll learn that The Evil Within 2 isn’t an easy game even on the lower difficulties, and its earlier monsters will put up a brutal fight. Due to this innately higher difficulty, every bullet and health item is crucial, so you’ll find yourself backtracking through the same areas over and over just to craft a round of 13 bullets. This back-and-forth momentum may grow tiresome for some, and as unforgiving as it is, this creates a constant on-a-knife’s-edge feeling that pushed me to ensure my guard was always up and had me checking my supplies nearly constantly.
If you do find yourself in a tight situation and without ammunition, The Evil Within 2 has a stealth mechanic to help you stay alive. Don’t think you are going to be able to sneak around backstabbing your way through Union, though, as the game’s AI is always continuously scanning for Sebastian’s presence. Attempting to sneak around monsters a few times got me caught and resulted in fights that I just barely made it out of, but at the expense of whatever precious ammo I had.
As horrific as it may be, The Evil Within 2 is very much a visual treat, especially in the monster department. The base enemies may be your generic semi-braindead zombos, but up close (and oh, will they ever get up close), they appear incredibly detailed, with torn muscles and pustules protruding from their necks. Even the strange green goo they drop after dying is visually satisfying.
Much like the first title in the series, The Evil Within 2 also continues on the trend of well-designed bosses. One is made from cackling heads and body parts of women whilst another is made from what appears to be a certain bodily fluid (I won’t specify which one). Another is a giant gas masked priest wielding a flame thrower, proving that there’s a boss here to gross and horrify everyone.
Not only are the games enemies expertly crafted, but its audio is as well is its audio. The Evil Within 2 contains an excellent score that seemingly matches the multiple horrors and moods that Sebastian must survive, and make moment-t0-moment fights feel like they could be the climatic last for Sebastian. Weapons also sound amazing here — but never better after their fired into the head of an enemy. That meaty crunch of a head popping often spiked my confidence mid-fight, willing me forward.
The Evil Within 2 may make you a bit dizzy, turning on a dime several times throughout a gameplay session and making you feel as though every fight with an enemy will be your last, but that’s precisely what makes the game so fresh and how its developers avoid falling into a sophomore slump. Though it isn’t without its faults (mainly in terms of story and dialogue), this sequel title takes what makes classic horror survival games great and cranks the intensity up a few notches, keeping you on your toes at any given moment, like any good game should.